Asia Online (TAO)
Broken Ties and
by Rabindranath Tagore
First published 1925
IN THE NIGHT
THE FUGITIVE GOLD
THE LOST JEWELS
IN THE NIGHT
I was startled
out of my sleep in the very depth of night. On opening
my eyes I saw it was our landlord Dokhin Babu. Hurriedly getting up
and drawing out a broken chair, I made him sit down, and looked
anxiously in his face. I saw by the clock that it was after half-past
face was pale, and his eyes wide open, as he said:
'To-night those symptoms returned--that medicine of yours has done me
no good at all.' I said rather timidly: 'I am afraid you have been
drinking again.' Dokhin Babu got quite angry, and said: 'There you
make a great mistake. It is not the drink. You must hear the whole
story in order to be able to understand the real reason.'
In the niche
there was a small tin kerosene lamp burning dimly. This I
turned up slightly; the light became a little brighter, and at the
same time it began to smoke. Pulling my cloth over my shoulders, I
spread a piece of newspaper over a packing-case, and sat down. Dokhin
Babu began his story:
years ago I was attacked by a serious illness; just when I
was on the point of death my disease took a better turn, until, after
nearly a month, I recovered.
'During my illness
my wife did not rest for a moment, day or night.
For those months that weak woman fought with all her might to drive
Death's messenger from the door. She went without food and sleep, and
had no thought for anything else in this world.
a tiger cheated of its prey, threw me from its jaws, and
went off, but in its retreat it dealt my wife a sharp blow with its
'Not long after
my wife gave birth to a dead child. Then came my turn
to nurse her. But she got quite troubled at this, and would say: "For
heaven's sake, don't keep fussing in and out of my room like that."
'If I went to
her room at night when she had fever, and, on the
pretence of fanning myself, would try to fan her, she would get quite
excited. And if, on account of serving her, my meal-time was ten
minutes later than usual, that also was made the occasion for all
sorts of entreaties and reproaches. If I went to do her the smallest
service, instead of helping her it had just the opposite effect. She
would exclaim: "It's not good for a man to fuss so much."
'I think you
have seen my garden-house. In front of it is the garden,
at the foot of which the river Ganges flows. Towards the south, just
below our bedroom, my wife had made a garden according to her own
fancy, and surrounded it with a hedge of henna. It was the one bit of
the garden that was simple and unpretentious. In the flower-pots you
did not see wooden pegs with long Latin names flying pretentious flags
by the side of the most unpretentious-looking plants. Jasmine,
tuberose, lemon flowers, and all kinds of roses were plentiful. Under
a large _bokul_ tree there was a white marble slab, which my wife used
to wash twice a day when she was in good health. It was the place
where she was in the habit of sitting on summer evenings, when her
work was finished. From there she could see the river, but was herself
invisible to the travellers on the passing steamers.
evening in the month of April, after having been
confined to her bed for many days, she expressed a desire to get out
of her close room, and sit in her garden.
'I lifted her
with great care, and laid her down on that marble seat
under the _bokul_ tree. One or two _bokul_ flowers fluttered down, and
through the branches overhead the chequered moonlight fell on her worn
face. All around was still and silent. As I looked down on her face,
sitting by her side in that shadowy darkness, filled with the heavy
scent of flowers, my eyes became moist.
near her, I took one of her hot thin hands between my
own. She made no attempt to prevent me. After I had sat like this in
silence for some time, my heart began to overflow, and I said: "Never
shall I be able to forget your love."
'My wife gave
a laugh in which there were mingled some happiness, a
trace of distrust, and also the sharpness of sarcasm. She said nothing
in the way of an answer, and yet gave me to understand by her laugh
that she thought it unlikely that I would never forget her, nor did
she herself wish it.
'I had never
had the courage to make love to my wife simply out of
fear of this sweet sharp laugh of hers. All the speeches which I made
up when I was absent from her seemed to be very commonplace as soon as
I found myself in her presence.
'It is possible
to talk when you are contradicted, but laughter cannot
be met by argument; so I had simply to remain silent. The moonlight
became brighter, and a cuckoo began to call over and over again till
it seemed to be demented. As I sat still, I wondered how on such a
night the cuckoo's bride could remain indifferent.
'After a great
deal of treatment, my wife's illness showed no signs of
improvement. The doctor suggested a change of air, and I took her to
At this point
Dokhin Babu suddenly stopped, and sat silent. With a
questioning look on his face he looked towards me, and then began to
brood with his head resting in his hands. I too kept silence. The
kerosene lamp flickered in the niche, and in the stillness of the
night the buzzing of the mosquitoes could be heard distinctly.
Suddenly breaking the silence, Dokhin Babu resumed his story:
treated my wife, and after some time I was told that the
disease was an incurable one, and my wife would have to suffer for the
rest of her life.
'Then one day
my wife said to me: "Since my disease is not going to
leave me, and there does not seem much hope of my dying soon, why
should you spend your days with this living death? Leave me alone,
and go back to your other occupations."
'Now it was
my turn to laugh. But I had not got her power of laughter.
So, with all the solemnity suitable to the hero of a romance, I
asserted: "So long as there is life in this body of mine------"
me, saying: "Now, now. You don't need to say any more.
Why, to hear you makes me want to give up the ghost."
'I don't know
whether I had actually confessed it to myself then, but
now I know quite well that I had, even at that time, in my heart of
hearts, got tired of nursing the hopeless invalid.
'It was clear
that she was able to detect my inner weariness of
spirit, in spite of my devoted service. I did not understand it then,
but now I have not the least doubt in my mind that she could read me
as easily as a Children's First Reader in which there are no compound
was of the same caste as myself. I had a standing
invitation to his house. After I had been there several times he
introduced me to his daughter. She was unmarried, although she was
over fifteen years old. Her father said that he had not married her as
he had not been able to find a suitable bridegroom of the same caste,
but rumour said that there was some bar sinister in her birth.
'But she had
no other fault, for she was as intelligent as she was
beautiful. For that reason I used sometimes to discuss with her all
sorts of questions, so that it was often late at night before I got
back home, long past the time when I should have given my wife her
medicine. She knew quite well that I had been at Doctor Haran's house,
but she never once asked me the cause of my delay.
seemed to me doubly intolerable and joyless. I now
began to neglect my patient, and constantly forgot to give her the
medicine at the proper time.
used sometimes to say to me: "For those who suffer from
some incurable disease death would be a happy release. As long as they
remain alive they get no happiness themselves, and make others
'To say this
in the ordinary course might be tolerated, but, with the
example of my wife before us, such a subject ought not to have been
mentioned. But I suppose doctors grow callous about the question of
life and death of men.
day, as I was sitting in the room next to the sick
chamber, I heard my wife say to the doctor: "Doctor, why do you go on
giving me so many useless medicines? When my whole life has become one
continuous disease, don't you think that to kill me is to cure me?"
'The doctor said: "You shouldn't talk like that."
'As soon as
the doctor had gone, I went into my wife's room, and
seating myself beside her began to stroke her forehead gently. She
said: "This room is very hot, you go out for your usual walk. If you
don't get your evening exercise, you will have no appetite for your
walk meant going to Doctor Haran's house. I had myself
explained that a little exercise is necessary for one's health and
appetite. Now I am quite sure that every day she saw through my
excuse. I was the fool, and I actually thought that she was
unconscious of this deception.'
Babu paused and, burying his head in his hands, remained
silent for a time. At last he said: 'Give me a glass of water,' and
having drunk the water he continued:
'One day the
doctor's daughter Monorama expressed a desire to see my
wife. I don't quite know why, but this proposal did not altogether
please me. But I could find no excuse for refusing her request. So she
arrived one evening at our house.
'On that day
my wife's pain had been rather more severe than usual.
When her pain was worse she would lie quite still and silent,
occasionally clenching her fists. It was only from that one was able
to guess what agony she was enduring. There was no sound in the room,
and I was sitting silently at the bedside. She had not requested me to
go out for my usual walk. Either she had not the power to speak, or
she got some relief from having me by her side when she was suffering
very much. The kerosene lamp had been placed near the door lest it
should hurt her eyes. The room was dark and still. The only sound that
could be heard was an occasional sigh of relief when my wife's pain
became less for a moment or two.
'It was at this
time that Monorama came, and stood at the door. The
light, coming from the opposite direction, fell on her face.
'My wife started
up, and, grasping my hand, asked: "O ke?" [Footnote:
'O ke?' is the Bengali for 'Who is that?'] In her feeble condition,
she was so startled to see a stranger standing at the door that she
asked two or three times in a hoarse whisper: "O ke? O ke? O ke?"
'At first I
answered weakly: "I do not know"; but the next moment I
felt as though some one had whipped me, and I hastily corrected myself
and said: "Why, it's our doctor's daughter."
'My wife turned
and looked at me. I was not able to look her in the
face. Then she turned to the new-comer, and said in a weak voice:
"Come in," and turning to me added: "Bring the lamp."
into the room, and began to talk a little to my wife.
While she was talking the doctor came to see his patient.
'He had brought
with him from the dispensary two bottles of medicine.
Taking these out he said to my wife: "See, this blue bottle is for
outward application, and the other is to be taken. Be careful not to
mix the two, for this is a deadly poison."
also, he placed the two bottles on the table by the
bedside. When he was going the doctor called his daughter.
'She said to
him: "Father, why should I not stay? There is no woman
here to nurse her."
'My wife got
quite excited and sat up saying: "No, no, don't you
bother yourself. I have an old maidservant who takes care of me as if
she were my mother."
'Just as the
doctor was going away with his daughter, my wife said to
him: "Doctor, he has been sitting too long in this close and stuffy
room. Won't you take him out for some fresh air?"
turned to me, and said: "Come along, I'll take you for a
stroll along the bank of the river."
little show of unwillingness I agreed. Before going the
doctor again warned my wife about the two bottles of medicine.
I took my dinner at the doctor's house, and was late in
coming home. On getting back I found that my wife was in extreme
pain. Feeling deeply repentant, I asked her: "Has your pain
'She was too
ill to answer, but only looked up in my face. I saw that
she was breathing with difficulty.
'I at once sent for the doctor.
'At first he
could not make out what was the matter. At last he asked:
"Has that pain increased? Haven't you used that liniment?"
he picked up the blue bottle from the table. It was
of agitation, he asked my wife: "You haven't taken this
medicine by mistake, have you?" Nodding her head, she silently
indicated that she had.
ran out of the house to bring his stomach pump, and I fell
on the bed like one insensible.
as a mother tries to pacify a sick child, my wife drew my
head to her breast, and with the touch of her hands attempted to tell
me her thoughts. Merely by that tender touch, she said to me again and
again: "Do not sorrow, all is for the best. You will be happy, and
knowing that I die happily."
'By the time
the doctor returned, all my wife's pains had ceased with
taking another gulp of water, exclaimed: 'Ugh, it's
terribly hot,' and then, going on to the veranda, he paced rapidly up
and down two or three times. Coming back he sat down, and began again.
It was clear enough that he did not want to tell me; but it seemed as
if, by some sort of magic, I was dragging the story out of him. He
'After my marriage
with Monorama, whenever I tried to talk effusively
to her, she looked grave. It seemed as if there was in her mind some
hint of suspicion which I could not understand.
'It was at this time that I began to have a fondness for drink.
in the early autumn, I was strolling with Monorama in our
garden by the river. The darkness had the feeling of a phantom world
about it, and there was not even the occasional sound of the birds
rustling their wings in their sleep. Only on both sides of the path
along which we were walking the tops of the casuarina trees sighed in
Monorama went and lay down on that marble slab,
placing her hands behind her head, and I sat beside her.
'There the darkness
seemed to be even denser, and the only patch of
sky that could be seen was thick with stars. The chirping of the
crickets under the trees was like a thin hem of sound at the lowest
edge of the skirt of silence.
I had been drinking a little, and my heart was in a
melting mood. When my eyes had got used to the darkness, the grey
outline of the loosely clad and languid form of Monorama, lying in the
shadow of the trees, awakened in my mind an undefinable longing. It
seemed to me as if she were only an unsubstantial shadow which I could
never grasp in my arms.
tops of the casuarina trees seemed to be on fire. I saw
the jagged edge of the old moon, golden in her harvest hue, rise
gradually above the tops of the trees. The moonlight fell on the face
of the white-clad form lying on the white marble. I could contain
myself no longer. Drawing near her and taking her hand in mine, I
said: "Monorama, you may not believe me, but never shall I be able to
forget your love."
the words were out of my mouth I started, for I remembered
that I had used the very same to some one else long before. And at
the same time, from over the top of the casuarina trees, from under
the golden crescent of the old moon, from across the wide stretches of
the flowing Ganges, right to its most distant bank--Ha ha--Ha ha--Ha
ha--came the sound of laughter passing swiftly overhead. Whether it
was a heart-breaking laugh or a sky-rending wail, I cannot say. But on
hearing it I fell to the ground in a swoon.
'When I recovered
consciousness, I saw that I was lying on my bed in
my own room. My wife asked me: "Whatever happened to you?" I replied,
trembling with terror: "Didn't you hear how the whole sky rang with
the sound of laughter--Ha ha--Ha ha--Ha ha? "My wife laughed, as she
answered: "Laughter? What I heard was the sound of a flock of birds
flying past overhead. You are easily frightened!"
'Next day I
knew quite well that it was a flock of ducks migrating, as
they do at that time of year, to the south. But when evening came I
began to doubt again, and in my imagination the whole sky rang with
laughter, piercing the darkness on the least pretext. It came to this
at last that after dark I was not able to speak a word to Monorama.
'Then I decided
to leave my garden-house, and took Monorama for a trip
on the river. In the keen November air all my fear left me, and for
some days I was quite happy.
Ganges, and crossing the river Khore, we at last reached
the Padma. This terrible river lay stretched out like a huge serpent
taking its winter sleep. On its north side were the barren, solitary
sand-banks, which lay blazing in the sun; and on the high banks of the
south side the mango groves of the villages stood close to the open
jaws of this demoniac river, which now and again turned in its sleep,
whereupon the cracked earth of the banks fell with a thud into its
'Finding a suitable place, I moored the boat to the bank.
'One day we
went out for a walk, on and on, till we were far away from
our boat. The golden light of the setting sun gradually faded, and the
sky was flooded with the pure silver light of the moon. As the
moonlight fell on that limitless expanse of white sand, and filled the
vast sky with its flood of brilliance, I felt as if we two were all
alone, wandering in an uninhabited, unbounded dreamland, and without
purpose. Monorama was wearing a red shawl, which she pulled over her
head, and wrapped round her shoulders, leaving only her face visible.
When the silence became deeper, and there was nothing but a vastness
of white solitude all around us, then Mono-rama slowly put out her
hand and took hold of mine. She seemed so close to me that I felt as
if she had surrendered into my hands her body and mind, her life and
youth. In my yearning and happy heart, I said to myself: "Is there
room enough anywhere else than under such a wide, open sky to contain
the hearts of two human beings in love?" Then I felt as if we had no
home to return to, that we could go on wandering thus, hand in hand,
free from all cares and obstacles, along a road which had no end,
through the moonlit immensity.
'As we went
on, we came at last to a place where I could see a pool of
water surrounded by hillocks of sand.
heart of this still water a long beam of moonlight
pierced, like a flashing sword. Arriving at the edge of the pool, we
stood there in silence, and Monorama looked up into my face. Her
shawl slipped from off her head, and I stooped down and kissed her.
'Just then there
came, from somewhere in the midst of that silent and
solitary desert, a voice, saying three times in solemn tones: "O ke? O
ke? O ke?"
'I started back,
and my wife also trembled. But the next moment both
of us realised that the sound was neither human nor superhuman--it was
the call of some water-fowl, startled from its sleep at the sound of
strangers so late at night near its nest.
from our fright, we returned as fast as we could to the
boat. Being late, we went straight to bed, and Monorama was soon fast
'Then in the
darkness it seemed as if some one, standing by the side
of the bed, was pointing a long, thin finger towards the sleeping
Monorama, and with a hoarse whisper was asking me over and over again:
"O ke? O ke? O ke?"
up, I seized a box of matches, and lighted the lamp.
Just as I did so, the mosquito net began to flutter in the wind, and
the boat began to rock. The blood in my veins curdled, and the sweat
came in heavy drops as I heard an echoing laugh, "Ha ha, Ha ha, Ha
ha," sound through the dark night. It travelled over the river, across
the sand-banks on the other side, and after that it passed over all
the sleeping country, the villages and the towns, as though for ever
crossing the countries of this and other worlds. Fainter and fainter
it grew, passing into limitless space, gradually becoming fine as the
point of a needle. Never had I heard such a piercingly faint sound,
never had I imagined such a ghost of a sound possible. It was as if
within my skull there was the limitless sky of space, and no matter
how far the sound travelled it could not get outside my brain.
'At last, when
it was almost unbearable, I thought, unless I
extinguished the light, I should not be able to sleep. No sooner had I
put out the lamp than once more, close to my mosquito curtain, I heard
in the darkness that hoarse voice saying: "O ke? O ke? O ke?" My heart
began to beat in unison with the words, and gradually began to repeat
the question: "O ke? O ke? O ke?" In the silence of the night, from
the middle of the boat my round clock began to be eloquent, and,
pointing its hour hand towards Monorama, ticked out the question: "O
ke? O ke? O ke?"' As he spoke, Dokhin Babu became ghastly pale, and
his voice seemed to be choking him. Touching him on the shoulder, I
said: 'Take a little water.' At the same moment the kerosene lamp
flickered and went out, and I saw that outside it was light. A crow
cawed, and a yellow-hammer whistled. On the road in front of my house
the creaking of a bullock-cart was heard.
on Dokhin Babu's face was altogether changed. There was
no longer the least trace of fear. That he had told me so much under
the intoxication of an imaginary fear, and deluded by the sorcery of
night, seemed to make him very much ashamed, and even angry with me.
Without any formality of farewell he jumped up, and shot out of the
when it was quite late, I was again wakened from my sleep
by a voice calling: 'Doctor, Doctor.'
THE FUGITIVE GOLD
After his father's death, Baidyanath settled down on the proceeds of
the Government stock which had been left to him. It never even
occurred to him to look for work. His manner of spending time was to
cut off branches of trees, and with minute care and skill he would
polish them into walking-sticks. The boys and young men of the
neighbourhood were candidates for these, and his supply of them never
fell short of the demand.
By the blessing
of the God of Fruition, Baidyanath had two boys and
one daughter who had been given in marriage at the proper time.
But his wife
Sundari bore a grievance against her lot, because there
was not the same surplus in the resources of her husband as in those
of their cousin across the road. The dispensation of Providence struck
her as unnecessarily imperfect, when she could not show the same
glitter of gold in her house, and tilt her nose as superciliously as
of her own house gave her continual annoyance, where
things were not only inconvenient but humiliating. Her bedstead, she
was sure, was not decent enough to carry a corpse, and even an orphan
bat who for seven generations had been without relatives would have
scorned to accept an invitation within such dilapidated walls; while
as for the furniture, why, it would have brought tears to the eyes of
the most hardened of ascetics. It is impossible for a cowardly sex
like man to argue against such palpable exaggerations, so Baidyanath
merely retired on to his veranda, and worked with redoubled energy at
polishing his walking-sticks.
But the rampart
of silence is not the surest means of self-defence.
Sometimes the wife would break upon her husband at his work, and,
without looking at him, say: 'Please tell the milkman to stop
At which Baidyanath,
after his first shock of speechlessness, might
possibly stammer out: 'Milk? How can you get on if you stop the
supply? What will the children drink?'
To this his
wife would answer: 'Rice water.' On another day she would
use quite the opposite method of attack, and, suddenly bursting into
the room, would exclaim: 'I give it up, you manage your own
Baidyanath would mutter in despair: 'What do you wish me to do?'
His wife would
reply: 'You do the marketing for this month,' and then
give him a list of materials sufficient for reckless orgies of
could summon up courage to ask: 'What is the necessity
of so much?' he would get the reply:
'Indeed it will
be cheaper for you to let the children die of
starvation, and me also for that matter.'
One day after finishing his morning meal Baidyanath was sitting alone,
preparing the thread for a kite, when he saw one of those wandering
mendicants, who are reputed to know the secret of transmuting the
baser metals into gold. In a moment there flashed to his mind the
surest chance of unearned increment to his funds. He took the
mendicant into his house, and was surprised at his own cleverness when
he secured the consent of his guest to teach him the art of making
gold. After having swallowed an alarming amount of nourishment, and a
considerable portion of Baidyanath's paternal inheritance, the ascetic
at last encouraged Baidyanath and his wife with the hope that the next
day they would see their dream realised.
That night no
one had any sleep. The husband and wife, with astounding
prodigality, began to build golden castles in the air and discuss the
details of the architecture. Their conjugal harmony was so unusually
perfect for that night that in spite of disagreements they were
willing to allow compromises in their plans for each other's sake.
Next day the
magician had mysteriously disappeared, and with him the
golden haze from the atmosphere in which they had been living. The
sunlight itself appeared dark, and the house and its furniture seemed
to its mistress to be four times more disgraceful than before.
if Baidyanath ventured even a truism on the most trifling
or household matters, his wife would advise him with withering sarcasm
to be careful of the last remnant of his intelligence after the
reckless expenditure from which it had suffered.
Sundari in the
meantime was showing her hand to every palmist that
came her way, and also her horoscope. She was told that in the matter
of children she would be fortunate, and that her house would soon be
filled with sons and daughters. But such prospect of overgrowth of
population in her house did not produce any exhilaration in her mind.
At last one
day an astrologer came and said that if within a year her
husband did not come upon some hidden treasure, then he would throw
his science to the winds and go about begging. Hearing him speak with
such desperate certainty, Sundari could not entertain a moment's doubt
as to the truth of his prophecy.
There are certain
recognised methods for acquiring wealth, such as
agriculture, service, trade, and the legal and illegal professions.
But none of these points out the direction of hidden wealth.
Therefore, while his wife spurred him on, it more and more perplexed
him to decide upon the particular mound which he should excavate, or
the part of the river-bed where he should send down a diver to search.
In the meantime
the Poojah Festival was approaching. A week before the
day, boats began to arrive at the village landing laden with
passengers returning home with their purchases: baskets full of
vegetables, tin trunks filled with new shoes, umbrellas and clothes
for the children, scents and soap, the latest story-books, and
perfumed oil for the wives.
The light of
the autumn sun filled the cloudless sky with the gladness
of festival, and the ripe paddy fields shimmered in the sun, while the
cocoa-nut leaves washed by the rains rustled in the fresh cool breeze.
getting up very early, went to see the image of the
goddess which was being prepared in the courtyard of the neighbouring
house. When it was their meal-time, the maid-servant had to come and
drag them away by force. At that time Baidyanath was brooding over the
futility of his own life, amidst this universal stir of merriment in
the neighbourhood. Taking his two children from the servant, he drew
them towards him, and asked the elder one: 'Well, Obu, tell me what do
you want for a present this time?'
without a moment's hesitation: 'Give me a toy boat,
one, not wishing to be behindhand with his brother, said:
'Oh, father, do give me a toy boat too.'
At this time an uncle of Sundari's had come to his house from Benares,
where he was working as an advocate, and Sundari spent a great part of
her time going round to see him.
At last one
day she said to her husband: 'Look here, you will have to
go to Benares.'
once concluded that his wife had received from an
astrologer a positive assurance of his impending death, and was
anxious for him to die in that holy place, to secure better advantage
in the next world.
Then he was
told that at Benares there was a house in which rumour
said there was some hidden treasure. Surely it was destined for him to
buy that house and secure the treasure.
in a fit of desperation, tried to assert his independence,
and exclaimed: 'Good heavens, I cannot go to Benares.'
Two days passed,
during which Baidyanath was busily engaged in making
toy boats. He fixed masts in them, and fastened sails, hoisted a red
flag, and put in rudders and oars. He did not even forget steersmen
and passengers to boot. It would have been difficult to find a boy,
even in these modern times, cynical enough to despise such a gift. And
when Baidyanath, the night before the festival, gave these boats to
his boys, they became wild with delight.
On hearing their
shouts Sundari came in, and at the sight of these
gifts flew into a fury of rage, and, seizing the toys, threw them out
of the window.
child began to scream with disappointment, and his mother,
giving him a resounding box on the ears, said: 'Stop your silly
The elder boy,
when he saw his father's face, forgot his own
disappointment, and with an appearance of cheerfulness said: 'Never
mind, father, I will go and fetch them first thing in the morning.'
Next day Baidyanath
agreed to go to Benares. He took the children in
his arms, and kissing them good-bye, left the house.
The house at Benares belonged to a client of his wife's uncle, and for
that reason perhaps the price was fairly high. Baidyanath took
possession of it, and began to live there alone. It was situated right
on the river-bank, and its walls were washed by the current.
At night Baidyanath
began to have an eerie feeling, and he drew his
sheet over his head, but could not sleep. When in the depth of night
all was still he was suddenly startled to hear a clanking sound from
somewhere. It was faint but clear--as though in the nether regions the
treasurer of the god Mammon was counting out his money.
terrified, but with the fear there mingled curiosity
and the hope of success. With trembling hand he carried the lamp from
room to room, to discover the place where the sound had its origin,
till in the morning it became inaudible among the other noises.
The next day
at midnight the sound was heard again, and Baidyanath
felt like a traveller in a desert, who can hear the gurgle of water
without knowing from which direction it is coming, hesitating to move
a step, for the fear of taking a wrong path and going farther away
from the spring.
Many days passed
in this anxious manner, until his face, usually so
serenely content, became lined with anxiety and care. His eyes were
sunk in their sockets, and had a hungry look, with a glow like that of
the burning sand of the desert under the mid-day sun.
At last one
night a happy thought came to him, and locking all the
doors, he began to strike the floors of all the rooms with a crowbar.
>From the floor of one small room came a hollow sound. He began to
dig. It was nearly dawn when the digging was completed.
opening made Baidyanath saw that underneath there was a
chamber, but in the darkness he had not the courage to take a jump
into the unknown. He placed his bedstead over the entrance, and lay
down. So morning came. That day, even in the day-time, the sound
could be heard. Repeating the name of Durga, he dragged his bedstead
away from the cavity in the floor. The splash of lapping water and
the clank of metal became louder. Fearfully peeping through the hole
into the darkness, he could see that the chamber was full of flowing
water, which, when examined with a stick, was found to be about a
couple of feet deep. Taking a box of matches and a lantern in his
hand, he easily jumped into the shallow room. But lest in one moment
all his hopes should collapse, his trembling hand found it difficult
to light the lantern. After striking almost a whole box of matches, he
at last succeeded.
He saw by its
light a large copper cauldron, fastened to a thick iron
chain. Every now and then, when the current came with a rush, the
chain clanked against the side, and made the metallic sound which he
quickly through the water, and went up to this
vessel, only to find that it was empty.
He could not
believe his eyes, and with both hands he took the
cauldron up and shook it furiously. He turned it upside down, but in
vain. He saw that its mouth was broken, as though at one time this
vessel had been closed and sealed, and some one had broken it open.
to grope about in the water. Something struck
against his hand, which on lifting he found to be a skull. He held it
up to his ear, and shook it violently--but it was empty. He threw it
He saw that
on one side of the room towards the river the wall was
broken. It was through this opening that the water entered, and he
felt sure that it had been made by his unknown predecessor, who had a
more reliable horoscope than his own.
At last, having
lost all hope, he heaved a deep sigh, which seemed to
mingle with the innumerable sighs of despair coming from some
subterranean inferno of everlasting failures.
His whole body
besmeared with mud, Baid-yanath made his way up into
the house. The world, full of its bustling population, seemed to him
empty as that broken vessel and chained to a meaningless destiny.
Once more to
pack his things, to buy his ticket, to get into the
train, to return again to his home, to have to wrangle with his wife,
and to endure the burden of his sordid days, all this seemed to him
intolerably unreasonable. He wished that he could just slide into the
water, as the broken-down bank of a river into the passing current.
Still he did
pack his things, buy his ticket, get into the train, and
one evening at the end of a winter day arrive at his home.
the house, he sat like one dazed in the courtyard, not
venturing to go into the inner apartments. The old maid-servant was
the first to catch sight of him, and at her shout of surprise the
children came running to see him with their glad laughter. Then his
wife called him.
up as if from sleep, and once more woke into the
life which he had lived before. With sad face and wan smile, he took
one of the boys in his arms and the other by the hand and entered the
room. The lamps had just been lighted, and although it was not yet
night, it was a cold evening, and everything was as quiet as if night
silent for a little, and then in a soft voice said
to his wife: 'How are you?'
His wife, without making any reply, asked him: 'What has happened?'
without speaking, simply struck his forehead. At this
Sundari's face hardened. The children, feeling the shadow of a
calamity, quietly slipped away, and going to the maidservant asked her
to tell them a story.
but neither husband nor wife spoke a word. The whole
atmosphere of the house seemed to palpitate with silence, and
gradually Sundari's lips set hard like a miser's purse. Then she got
up, and leaving her husband went slowly into her bedroom, locking the
door behind her. Baidyanath remained standing silently outside. The
watchman's call was heard as he passed. The tired world was sunk in
When it was
quite late at night the elder boy, wakened from some
dream, left his bed, and coming out on to the veranda whispered:
But his father
was not there. In a slightly raised voice he called
from outside the closed door of his parents' bedroom, 'Father,' but he
got no answer. And in fear he went back to bed.
early the maid-servant, according to her custom, prepared
her master's tobacco, and went in search of him, but could find him
As long as my wife was alive, I did not pay much attention to Probha.
As a matter of fact, I thought a great deal more about Probha's mother
than I did of the child herself.
At that time
my dealing with her was superficial, limited to a little
petting, listening to her lisping chatter, and occasionally watching
her laugh and play. As long as it was agreeable to me I used to fondle
her, but as soon as it threatened to become tiresome I would surrender
her to her mother with the greatest readiness.
At last, on
the untimely death of my wife, the child dropped from her
mother's arms into mine, and I took her to my heart.
But it is difficult
to say whether it was I who considered it my duty
to bring up the motherless child with twofold care, or my daughter who
thought it her duty to take care of her wifeless father with a
superfluity of attention. At any rate, it is a fact that from the age
of six she began to assume the rele of housekeeper. It was quite clear
that this little girl constituted herself the sole guardian of her
I smiled inwardly
but surrendered myself completely to her hands. I
soon saw that the more inefficient and helpless I was the better
pleased she became. I found that even if I took down my own clothes
from the peg, or went to get my own umbrella, she put on such an air
of offended dignity that it was clear that she thought I had usurped
her right. Never before had she possessed such a perfect doll as she
now had in her father, and so she took the keenest pleasure in feeding
him, dressing him, and even putting him to bed. Only when I was
teaching her the elements of arithmetic or the First Reader had I the
opportunity of summoning up my parental authority.
Every now and
then the thought troubled me as to where I should be
able to get enough money to provide her with a dowry for a suitable
bridegroom. I was giving her a good education, but what would happen
if she fell into the hands of an ignorant fool?
I made up my
mind to earn money. I was too old to get employment in a
Government office, and I had not the influence to get work in a
private one. After a good deal of thought I decided that I would write
If you make
holes in a bamboo tube, it will no longer hold either oil
or water, in fact its power of receptivity is lost; but if you blow
through it, then, without any expenditure it may produce music. I felt
quite sure that the man who is not useful can be ornamental, and he
who is not productive in other fields can at least produce literature.
Encouraged by this thought, I wrote a farce. People said it was good,
and it was even acted on the stage.
tasted of fame, I found myself unable to stop pursuing it
farther. Days and days together I went on writing farces with an agony
come with her smile, and remind me gently: 'Father, it is
time for you to take your bath.'
And I would
growl out at her: 'Go away, go away; can't you see that I
am busy now? Don't vex me.'
The poor child
would leave me, unnoticed, with a face dark like a lamp
whose light has been suddenly blown out.
I drove the
maid-servants away, and beat the men-servants, and when
beggars came and sang at my door I would get up and run after them
with a stick. My room being by the side of the street, passers-by
would stop and ask me to tell them the way, but I would request them
to go to Jericho. Alas, no one took it into serious consideration
that I was engaged in writing a screaming farce.
Yet I never
got money in the measure that I got fun and fame. But that
did not trouble me, although in the meantime all the potential
bridegrooms were growing up for other brides whose parents did not
But just then
an excellent opportunity came my way. The landlord of a
certain village, Jahirgram, started a newspaper, and sent a request
that I would become its editor. I agreed to take the post.
For the first
few days I wrote with such fire and zest that people
used to point at me when I went out into the street, and I began to
feel a brilliant halo about my forehead.
Next to Jahirgram
was the village of Ahirgram. Between the landlords
of these two villages there was a constant rivalry and feud. There had
been a time when they came to blows not infrequently. But now, since
the magistrate had bound them both over to keep the peace, I took the
place of the hired ruffians who used to act for one of the rivals.
Every one said that I lived up to the dignity of my position.
were so strong and fiery that Ahirgram could no longer
hold up its head. I blackened with my ink the whole of their ancient
clan and family.
All this time
I had the comfortable feeling of being pleased with
myself. I even became fat. My face beamed with the exhilaration of a
successful man of genius. I admired my own delightful ingenuity of
insinuation, when at some excruciating satire of mine, directed
against the ancestry of Ahirgram, the whole of Jahirgram would burst
its sides with laughter like an over-ripe melon. I enjoyed myself
But at last
Ahirgram started a newspaper. What it published was
starkly naked, without a shred of literary urbanity. The language it
used was of such undiluted colloquialism that every letter seemed to
scream in one's face. The consequence was that the inhabitants of both
villages clearly understood its meaning.
But as I was
hampered in my style by my sense of decency, my subtlety
of sarcasm very often made but a feeble impression upon the power of
understanding of both my friends and my enemies.
The result was
that even when I won decidedly in this war of infamy my
readers were not aware of my victory. At last in desperation I wrote a
sermon on the necessity of good taste in literature, but found that I
had made a fatal mistake. For things that are solemn offer more
surface for ridicule than things that are truly ridiculous. And
therefore my effort at the moral betterment of my fellow-beings had
the opposite effect to that which I had intended.
ceased to show me such attention as he had done. The
honour to which I had grown accustomed dwindled in its quantity, and
its quality became poor. When I walked in the street people did not go
out of their way to carry off the memory of a word with me. They even
went so far as to be frivolously familiar in their behaviour towards
me--such as slapping my shoulders with a laugh and giving me
In the meantime
my admirers had quite forgotten the farces which had
made me famous. I felt as if I was a burnt-out match, charred to its
My mind became
so depressed that, no matter how I racked my brains, I
was unable to write one line. I seemed to have lost all zest for life.
Probha had now
grown afraid of me. She would not venture to approach
me unless summoned. She had come to understand that a commonplace
doll is a far better companion than a genius of a father who writes
One day I saw
that the Ahirgram newspaper, leaving my employer alone
for once, had directed its attack on me. Some very ugly imputations
had been made against myself. One by one all my friends and
acquaintances came and read to me the spiciest bits, laughing
heartily. Some of them said that however one might disagree with the
subject-matter, it could not be denied that it was cleverly written.
In the course of the day at least twenty people came and said the same
thing, with slight variations to break its monotony.
In front of
my house there is a small garden. I was walking there in
the evening with a mind distracted with pain. When the birds had
returned to their nests, and surrendered themselves to the peace of
the evening, I understood quite clearly that amongst the birds at any
rate there were no writers of journalism, nor did they hold
discussions on good taste. I was thinking only of one thing, namely,
what answer I could make. The disadvantage of politeness is that it is
not intelligible to all classes of people. So I had decided that my
answer must be given in the same strain as the attack. I was not going
to allow myself to acknowledge defeat.
Just as I had
come to this conclusion, a well-known voice came softly
through the darkness of the evening, and immediately afterwards I felt
a soft warm touch in the palm of my hand. I was so distracted and
absent-minded that even though that voice and touch were familiar to
me, I did not realise that I knew them.
But the next
moment, when they had left me, the voice sounded in my
ear, and the memory of the touch became living. My child had slowly
come near to me once more, and had whispered in my ear, 'Father,' but
not getting any answer she had lifted my right hand, and with it had
gently stroked her forehead, and then silently gone back into the
For a long time
Probha had not called me like that, nor caressed me
with such freedom. Therefore it was that to-day at the touch of her
love my heart suddenly began to yearn for her. Going back to the
house a little later, I saw that Probha was lying on her bed. Her eyes
were half closed, and she seemed to be in pain. She lay like a flower
which has dropped on the dust at the end of the day.
Putting my hand
on her forehead, I found that she was feverish. Her
breath was hot, and her pulse was throbbing.
I realised that
the poor child, feeling the first symptoms of fever,
had come with her thirsty heart to get her father's love and caresses,
while he was trying to think of some stinging reply to send to the
I sat beside
her. The child, without speaking a word, took my hand
between her two fever-heated palms, and laid it upon her forehead,
lying quite still.
All the numbers
of the Jahirgram and Ahirgram papers which I had in
the house I burnt to ashes. I wrote no answer to the attack. Never
had I felt such joy as I did, when I thus acknowledged defeat.
I had taken
the child to my arms when her mother had died, and now,
having cremated this rival of her mother, again I took her to my
Translated by the Author.
Giribala is overflowing with the exuberance of her youth that seems
spilling over all around her, in the folds of her dress, the turning
of her neck, the motion of her hands, in the rhythm of her steps, now
quick, now languid, in her tinkling anklets and ringing laughter, in
her voice and her swift glances. Often she is seen, wrapt in a blue
silk, walking on her terrace, in an impulse of unmeaning restlessness.
Her limbs seem eager to dance to the time of an inner music unceasing
and unheard. She takes pleasure in merely moving her body, causing
ripples to break out in the flood of her young life. Suddenly she will
pluck a leaf from a plant in the flower-pot, and throw it up in the
sky, and her bangles give a sudden tinkle and the careless grace of
her hand, like a bird freed from its cage, flies unseen in the air.
With her swift fingers she brushes away from her dress a mere nothing;
standing on tiptoe she peeps over her terrace walls for no cause
whatever, and then with a rapid motion turns round to go to another
direction, swinging her bunch of keys tied to a corner of her garment.
She loosens her hair in an untimely caprice, sitting before her mirror
to do it up again, and then in a fit of laziness flings herself upon
her bed like a line of stray moonlight, slipping through some opening
of the leaves, idling in the shadow.
She has no children
and, having been married into a wealthy family,
has very little work to do. Thus she seems daily accumulating her own
self without expenditure till the vessel is brimming over with the
seething surplus. She has her husband, but not under her control. She
has grown up from a girl into a woman, and yet through familiarity
escaping her husband's notice.
When she was
newly married, and her husband, Gopinath, was attending
his college, he would often play the truant and, under cover of the
mid-day siesta of his elders, secretly come to make love to Giribala.
Though they lived under the same roof he would create occasions to
send her letters on tinted notepaper perfumed with rosewater, and even
would gloat upon exaggerated grievances over some imaginary neglect of
Just then his
father died, and he became the sole owner of his
property. Like an unseasoned piece of timber, the immature youth of
Gopinath attracted parasites that began to bore into his substance.
>From now his movements took the course which led him in a contrary
direction from his wife.
There is a dangerous
fascination in being a leader of men, to which
has succumbed many a strong soul. To be accepted as the leader of a
small circle of sycophants in his own parlour has the same fearful
attraction for a man who suffers from a scarcity of brains and
character. Gopinath assumed the part of a hero among his friends and
acquaintances, and tried daily to invent new wonders in all manner of
extravagance. He won a reputation among his followers for his audacity
of excesses, which goaded him not only to keep up his fame but to
surpass himself at all costs.
In the meanwhile,
Giribala in the seclusion of her lonely youth felt
like a queen who had her throne but no subjects. She knew she had the
power in her hand which could make the world of men her captive, only
that world itself was missing. Giribala has a maid-servant whose name
is Sudha. She can sing and dance and improvise verses, and she freely
gives expression to her regret that such a beauty as that of her
mistress should be dedicated to a fool who forgets to enjoy that which
he has in his possession. Giribala is never tired of hearing from her
the details of her charms of beauty, while at the same time
contradicting her, calling her a liar and flatterer, exciting her to
swear by all that is sacred that she is earnest in her
admiration,--which statement, even without the accompaniment of a
solemn oath, is not difficult for Giribala to believe.
Sudha used to
sing to her a song beginning with the line, 'Let me
write myself a slave upon the soles of thy feet,' and Giribala in her
imagination could feel that her beautiful feet were fully worthy of
bearing inscriptions of everlasting slavery from conquered hearts, if
only they could be free in their career of conquest.
But the woman
to whom her husband Gopinath has surrendered himself as
a slave is Lavanga, the actress, who has the reputation of playing to
perfection the part of a maiden languishing in hopeless love, and
swooning on the stage with an exquisite naturalness. Before her
husband had altogether vanished from her sphere of influence, Giribala
had often heard from him about the wonderful histrionic powers of this
woman, and in her jealous curiosity had greatly desired to see Lavanga
on the stage. But she could not secure her husband's consent, because
Gopinath was firm in his opinion that the theatre was a place not fit
for any decent woman to visit.
At last she
paid for a seat, and sent Sudha to see this famous actress
in one of her best parts. The account that she received from her on
her return was far from flattering to Lavanga, either as to her
personal appearance or as to her stage accomplishments. Since, for
obvious reasons, she had great faith in Sudha's power of appreciation
where it was due, she did not hesitate to believe in her description
of Lavanga which was accompanied by mimicry of a ludicrous mannerism.
When at last
her husband deserted her in his infatuation for this
woman, she began to feel qualms of doubt. But as Sudha repeatedly
asserted her former opinion with a greater vehemence, comparing
Lavanga to a piece of burnt log dressed up in a woman's clothes,
Giribala determined secretly to go to the theatre herself and settle
this question for good. And she did go there one night with all the
excitement of a forbidden entry. Her very trepidation of heart lent a
special charm to what she saw there. She gazed at the faces of the
spectators, lit up with an unnatural shine of lamplight; and, with the
magic of its music and the painted canvas of its scenery, the theatre
seemed to her like a world where society was suddenly freed from its
law of gravitation.
her walled-up terrace and joyless home, she had entered a
region where dreams and reality had clasped their hands in friendship,
over the wine-cup of art.
The bell rang,
the orchestra music stopped, the audience sat still in
their seats, the stage lights shone brighter, and the curtain was
drawn up. Suddenly appeared in the light from the mystery of the
unseen the shepherd girls of the Vrinda forest, and with the
accompaniment of songs commenced their dance, punctuated with the
uproarious applause of the audience. The blood began to throb all over
Giribala's body, and she forgot for the moment that her life was
limited to her circumstances, and that she had not been set free in a
world where all laws had melted in music.
Sudha came occasionally
to interrupt her with anxious whispers, urging
her to hasten back home for fear of being detected. But she paid no
heed to the warning, for her sense of fear had gone.
The play goes
on. Krishna has given offence to his beloved Radha, and
she in her wounded pride refuses to recognise him. He is entreating
her, abasing himself at her feet, but in vain. Giribala's heart seems
to swell. She imagines herself as the offended Radha; and feels that
she also has in her this woman's power to vindicate her pride. She had
heard what a force was woman's beauty in the world, but to-night it
became to her palpable.
At last the
curtain dropped, the light became dim, the audience got
ready to leave the theatre, but Giribala sat still like one in a
dream. The thought that she would have to go home had vanished from
her mind. She waited for the curtain to rise again and the eternal
theme of Krishna's humiliation at the feet of Radha to continue. But
Sudha came to remind her that the play had ended, and the lamps would
soon be put out.
It was late
when Giribala came back home. A kerosene lamp was dimly
burning in the melancholy solitude and silence of her room. Near her
window upon her lonely bed a mosquito curtain was slightly moving in a
gentle breeze. Her world seemed to her distasteful and mean, like a
rotten fruit swept into the dustbin.
she regularly visited the theatre every Saturday. The
fascination of her first sight of it lost much of its glamour. The
painted vulgarity of the actresses and the falseness of their
affectation became more and more evident, yet the habit grew upon her.
Every time the curtain rose the window of her life's prison-house
seemed to open before her, and the stage, bordered off from the world
of reality by its gilded frame and scenic display, by its array of
lights and even its flimsiness of conventionalism, appeared to her
like a fairyland, where it was not impossible for herself to occupy
the throne of the fairy queen.
When for the
first time she saw her husband among the audience
shouting his drunken admiration for a certain actress, she felt an
intense disgust, and prayed in her mind that a day might come when she
might have an opportunity to spurn him away with her contempt. But the
opportunity seemed remoter every day, for Gopinath was hardly ever to
be seen at his home now, being carried away, one knew not where, in
the centre of a dust-storm of dissipation.
in the month of March, in the light of the full moon,
Giribala was sitting on her terrace dressed in her cream-coloured
robe. It was her habit daily to deck herself with jewelry, as if for
some festive occasion. For these costly gems were like wine to
her--they sent heightened consciousness of beauty to her limbs; she
felt like a plant in spring tingling with the impulse of flowers in
all its branches. She wore a pair of diamond bracelets on her arms, a
necklace of rubies and pearls on her neck, and a ring with a big
sapphire on the little finger of her left hand. Sudha was sitting near
her bare feet, admiringly touching them with her hand, and expressing
her wish that she were a man privileged to offer his life as homage to
such a pair of feet.
hummed a love-song to her, and the evening wore on to
night. Everybody in the household had finished the evening meal, and
gone to sleep. Then suddenly Gopinath appeared reeking with scent and
liquor, and Sudha, drawing her sari over her face, hastily ran away
from the terrace.
for a moment that her day had come at last. She
turned away her face, and sat silent.
But the curtain
in her stage did not rise, and no song of entreaty
came from her hero with the words:
Listen to the
pleading of the moonlight, my love, and hide not thy
In his dry unmusical voice Gopinath said: 'Give me your keys.'
A gust of south
wind like a sigh of the insulted romance of the poetic
world scattered all over the terrace the smell of the night-blooming
jasmines, and loosened some wisp of hair on Giribala's cheek. She let
go her pride, and got up and said: 'You shall have your keys if you
listen to >what I have to say.'
Gopinath said: 'I cannot delay. Give me your keys.'
'I will give you the keys and everything that is in the
safe, but you must not leave me.'
Gopinath said: 'That cannot be. I have urgent business.'
'Then you shan't have the keys,' said Giribala.
to search for them. He opened the drawers of the
dressing-table, broke open the lid of the box that contained
Giribala's toilet requisites, smashed the glass panes of her almirah,
groped under the pillows and mattress of the bed, but the keys he
could not find. Giribala stood near the door stiff and silent, like a
marble image gazing at vacancy. Trembling with rage, Gopinath came to
her, and said with an angry growl: 'Give me your keys or you will
not answer, and Gopinath, pinning her to the wall,
snatched away by force her bracelets, necklace and ring, and, giving
her a parting kick, went away.
Nobody in the
house woke up from his sleep, none in the neighbourhood
knew of this outrage, the moonlight remained placid, and the peace of
the night undisturbed. Hearts can be rent never to heal again amidst
such serene silence.
The next morning
Giribala said she was going to see her father, and
left home. As Gopinath's present destination was not known, and she
was not responsible to anybody else in the house, her absence was not
The new play of Manorama was on rehearsal in the theatre where
Gopinath was a constant visitor. Lavanga was practising for the part
of the heroine Manorama, and Gopinath, sitting in the front seat with
his rabble of followers, would vociferously encourage his favourite
actress with his approbation. This greatly disturbed the rehearsal,
but the proprietors of the theatre did not dare to annoy a patron of
whose vindictiveness they were afraid. But one day he went so far as
to molest an actress in the green-room, and he had to be turned away
with the aid of the police.
to take his revenge, and when, after a great deal
of preparation and shrieking advertisements, the new play _Manorama_
was about to be produced, Gopinath took away the principal actress
Lavanga with him, and disappeared. It was a great shock to the
manager, who had to postpone the opening night, get hold of a new
actress, and teach her the part, bringing out the play before the
public with considerable misgivings in his mind.
But the success
was as unexpected as it was unprecedented. When the
news reached Gopinath, he could not resist the curiosity to come and
see the performance.
The play opens
with Manorama living in her husband's house neglected
and hardly noticed. Near the end of the drama her husband deserts
her, and, concealing his first marriage, manages to marry a
millionaire's daughter. When the wedding ceremony is over, and the
bridal veil is raised from her face, she is discovered to be the same
Manorama, only no longer the former drudge, but queenly in her beauty
and splendour of dress and ornaments. In her infancy she had been
brought up in a poor home, having been kidnapped from the house of her
rich father. He, having traced her to her husband's home, brings her
back to him, and celebrates her marriage once again in a fitting
In the concluding
scene, when the husband is going through his period
of penitence and humiliation, as is fit in a play which has a moral, a
sudden disturbance arose among the audience. So long as Manorama
appeared obscured in her position of drudgery Gopinath showed no sign
of perturbation; but when after the wedding ceremony she came out
dressed in her red bridal robe, and took her veil off, when with
majestic pride of her overwhelming beauty she turned her face towards
the audience and, slightly bending her neck, shot a fiery glance of
exultation at Gopinath, applause broke out in wave after wave, and the
enthusiasm of the spectators became unbounded.
cried out in a thick voice, 'Giribala,' and like a
madman tried to rush upon the stage. The audience shouted, 'Turn him
out,' the police came to drag him away, and he struggled and screamed,
'I will kill her,' while the curtain dropped.
THE LOST JEWELS
My boat was moored beside an old bathing _ghat_ of the river, almost
in ruins. The sun had set.
On the roof
of the boat the boatmen were at their evening prayer.
Against the bright background of the western sky their silent worship
stood out like a picture. The waning light was reflected on the still
surface of river in every delicate shade of colour from gold to
A huge house
with broken windows, tumbledown verandas, and all the
appearance of old age was in front of me. I sat alone on the steps of
the _ghat_, which were cracked by the far-reaching roots of a banyan
tree. A feeling of sadness began to come over me, when suddenly I was
startled to hear a voice asking: 'Sir, where have you come from?'
I looked up,
and saw a man who seemed half-starved and out of fortune.
His face had a dilapidated look such as is common among my countrymen
who take up service away from home. His dirty coat of Assam silk was
greasy and open at the front. He appeared to be just returning from
his day's work, and to be taking a walk by the side of the river at a
time when he should have been eating his evening meal.
sat beside me on the steps. I said in answer to his
question: 'I come from Ranchi.'
'I am a merchant.'
'A dealer in cocoons and timber.'
After a moment's hesitation I gave a name, but it was not my own.
Still the stranger's
curiosity was not satisfied. Again he questioned
me: 'What have you come here for?' I replied: 'For a change of air.'
seemed a little astonished. He said: 'Well, sir, I
have been enjoying the air of this place for nearly six years, and
with it I have taken a daily average of fifteen grains of quinine, but
I have not noticed that I have benefited much.'
I replied: 'Still,
you must acknowledge that, after Ranchi, I shall
find the air of this place sufficient of a change.'
said he. 'More than you bargain for. But where will you
Pointing to the tumble-down house above the _ghat_, I said: 'There.'
I think my friend
had a suspicion that I had come in search of hidden
treasure. However, he did not pursue the subject. He only began to
describe to me what had happened in this ruined building some fifteen
I found that
he was the schoolmaster of the place. From beneath an
enormous bald head, his two eyes shone out from their sockets with an
unnatural brightness in a face that was thin with hunger and illness.
having finished their evening prayer, turned their
attention to their cooking. As the last light of the day faded, the
dark and empty house stood silent and ghostly above the deserted
said: 'Nearly ten years ago, when I came to this
place, Bhusan Saha used to live in this house. He was the heir to the
large property and business of his uncle Durga Saha, who was
'But he was
modern. He had been educated, and not only spoke faultless
English, but actually entered sahibs' offices with his shoes on. In
addition to that he grew a beard; thus he had not the least chance of
bettering himself so far as the sahibs were concerned. You had only to
look at him to see that he was a modernised Bengali.
'In his own
home, too, he had another drawback. His wife was
beautiful. With his college education on the one hand, and on the
other his beautiful wife, what chance was there of his preserving our
good old traditions in his home? In fact, when he was ill, he actually
called in the assistant surgeon. And his style of food, dress, and his
wife's jewels were all on the same extravagant scale.
'Sir, you are
certainly a married man, so that it is hardly necessary
to tell you that the ordinary female is fond of sour green mangoes,
hot chillies, and a stern husband. A man need not necessarily be ugly
or poor to be cheated of his wife's love; but he is sure to lose it if
he is too gentle.
'If you ask
me why this is so, I have much to say on this subject, for
I have thought a good deal about it. A deer chooses a hardwood tree on
which to sharpen its horns, and would get no pleasure in rubbing its
horns against the soft stem of a plantain tree. From the very moment
that man and woman became separate sexes, woman has been exercising
all her faculties in trying by various devices to fascinate and bring
man under her control. The wife of a man who is, of his own accord,
submissive is altogether out of employment. All those weapons which
she has inherited from her grandmothers of untold centuries are
useless in her hands: the force of her tears, the fire of her anger,
and the snare of her glances lie idle.
'Under the spell
of modern civilisation man has lost the God-given
power of his barbaric nature, and this has loosened the conjugal ties.
The unfortunate Bhusan had been turned out of the machine of modern
civilisation an absolutely faultless man. He was therefore neither
successful in business nor in his own home.
'Mani was Bhusan's
wife. She used to get her caresses without asking,
her Dacca muslin saris without tears, and her bangles without being
able to pride herself on a victory. In this way her woman's nature
became atrophied, and with it her love for her husband. She simply
accepted things without giving anything in return. Her harmless and
foolish husband used to imagine that to give is the way to get. The
fact was just the contrary.
of this was that Mani looked upon her husband as a mere
machine for turning out her Dacca muslins and her bangles--so perfect
a machine, indeed, that never for a single day did she need to oil its
birthplace was Phulbere, here was his place of
business, where, for the sake of his work, he spent most of his time.
At his Phulbere house he had no mother, but had plenty of aunts and
uncles and other relatives, from which distraction he brought away his
wife to this house and kept her to himself alone. But there is this
difference between a wife and one's other possessions, that by keeping
her to oneself one may lose her beyond recovery.
did not talk very much, nor did she mix much with her
neighbours. To feed Brahmans in obedience to a sacred vow, or to give
a few pice to a religious mendicant, was not her way. In her hands
nothing was ever lost; whatever she got she saved up most carefully,
with the one exception of the memory of her husband's caresses. The
extraordinary thing was that she did not seem to lose the least atom
of her youthful beauty. People said that whatever her age was, she
never looked older than sixteen. I suppose youth is best preserved
with the aid of a heart that is an ice-box.
'But as far
as work was concerned Mani was very efficient. She never
kept more servants than were absolutely necessary. She thought that to
pay wages to any one to do work which she herself could do was like
playing the pickpocket with her own money.
'Not being anxious
about any one, never being distracted by love,
always working and saving, she was never sick nor sorry.
'For the majority
of husbands this is quite sufficient,--not only
sufficient, but fortunate. For the loving wife is a wife who makes it
difficult for her husband to forget her, and the fatigue of perpetual
remembrance wears out life's bloom. It is only when a man has lumbago
that he becomes conscious of his waist. And lumbago in domestic
affairs is to be made conscious, by the constant imposition of love,
that you have such a thing as a wife. Excessive devotion to her
husband may be a merit for the wife but not comfortable for the
husband,--that is my candid opinion.
'I hope I am
not tiring you, sir? I live alone, you see; I am banished
from the company of my wife, and there are many important social
questions which I have leisure to think about, but cannot discuss with
my pupils. In course of conversation you will see how deeply I have
thought of them.'
Just as he was
speaking, some jackals began to howl from a
neighbouring thicket. The schoolmaster stopped for a moment the
torrent of his talk. When the sound had ceased, and the earth and the
water relapsed into a deeper silence, he--opened his glowing eyes wide
in the darkness of the night, and resumed the thread of his story.
tangle occurred in Bhusan's complicated business. What
exactly happened it is not possible for a layman like myself either to
understand or to explain. Suffice it to say that, for some sudden
reason, he found it difficult to get credit in the market. If only he
could, by hook or by crook, raise a lakh and a half of rupees, and
only for a few days rapidly flash it before the market, then his
credit would be restored, and he would be able to sail fair again.
'But the money
did not come easily. If the rumour got about that he
was borrowing in the market where he was known, then he feared that
his business would suffer even more seriously. So he began to cast
about to see whether he could not raise a loan from some stranger.
But, in that case, he would be bound to give some satisfactory
'The best security
of all is jewelry, for that saves the signing of
all sorts of complicated documents. It not only saves time but is a
'So Bhusan went
to his wife. But unfortunately he was not able to face
his wife as easily as most men are. His love for his wife was of that
kind which has to tread very carefully, and cannot speak out plainly
what is in the mind; it is like the attraction of the sun for the
earth, which is strong, yet which leaves immense space between them.
the hero of a high-class romance does sometimes, when
hard pressed, have to mention to his beloved such things as mortgage
deeds and promissory notes. But the words stick, and the tune does not
seem right, and the shrinking of reluctance makes itself felt. The
unfortunate Bhusan was totally powerless to say: "Look here, I am in
need of money; bring out your jewels."
'He did broach
the subject to his wife at last, but with such extreme
delicacy that it only excited her opposition without bending it to his
own purpose. When Mani set her face hard, and said nothing, he was
deeply hurt, yet he was incapable of returning the hurt back to her.
The reason was that he had not even a trace of that barbarity which is
the gift of the male. If any one had upbraided him for this, then most
probably he would have expressed some such subtle sentiment as the
following: "If my wife, of her own free choice, is unwilling to trust
me with her jewelry, then I have no right to take them from her by
'Has God given
to man such forcefulness only for him to spend his time
in delicate measurement of fine-spun ideals?
may be, Bhusan, being too proud to touch his wife's
jewels, went to Calcutta to try some other way of raising the money.
'As a general
rule in this world, the wife knows the husband far
better than the husband ever knows the wife; but extremely modern men
in their subtlety of nature are altogether beyond the range of those
unsophisticated instincts which womankind has acquired through ages.
These men are a new race, and have become as mysterious as women
themselves. Ordinary men can be divided roughly into three main
classes; some of them are barbarians, some are fools, and some are
blind; but these modern men do not fit into any of them.
'So Mani called
her counsellor for consultation. Some cousin of hers
was engaged as assistant steward on Bhusan's estate. He was not the
kind of man to profit himself by dint of hard work, but by help of his
position in the family he was able to save his salary, and even a
him and told him what had happened. She ended up by
asking him: "Now what is your advice?"
'He shook his
head wisely and said: "I don't like the look of things
at all." The fact is that wise men never like the look of things. Then
he added: "Babu will never be able to raise the money, and in the end
he will have to fall back upon that jewelry of yours."
'From what she
knew of humanity she thought that this was not only
possible but likely. Her anxiety became keener than ever. She had no
child to love, and though she had a husband she was almost unable to
realise his very existence. So her blood froze at the very thought
that her only object of love, the wealth which like a child had grown
from year to year, was to be in a moment thrown into the bottomless
abyss of trade. She gasped: "What, then, is to be done?"
"Why not take your jewels and go to your father's
house?" In his heart of hearts he entertained the hope that a portion,
and possibly the larger portion, of that jewelry would fall to his
'Mani at once
agreed. It was a rainy night towards the end of summer.
At this very ghat a boat was moored. Mani, wrapped from head to foot
in a thick shawl, stepped into the boat. The frogs croaked in the
thick darkness of the cloudy dawn. Modhu, waking up from sleep, roused
himself from the boat, and said: "Give me the box of jewels."
'Mani replied: "Not now, afterwards. Now let us start."
'The boat started,
and floated swiftly down the current. Mani had
spent the whole night in covering every part of her body with her
ornaments. She was afraid that if she put her jewels into a box they
might be snatched away from her hands. But if she wore them on her
person, then no one could take them away without murdering her. Mani
did not understand Bhusan, it is true; but there was no doubt about
her understanding of Modhu.
'Modhu had written
a letter to the chief steward to the effect that he
had started to take his mistress to her father's house. The steward
was an ancient retainer of Bhusan's father. He was furiously angry,
and wrote a lengthy epistle, full of misspellings, to his master.
Although the letter was weak in its grammar, yet it was forcible in
its language, and clearly expressed the writer's disapproval of giving
too much indulgence to womankind. Bhusan on receiving it understood
what was the motive of Mani's secret departure. What hurt him most was
the fact that, in spite of his having given way to the unwillingness
of his wife to part with her jewels in this time of his desperate
straits, his wife should still suspect him.
'When he ought
to have been angry, Bhusan was only distressed. Man is
the rod of God's justice, to him has been entrusted the thunderbolt of
the divine wrath, and if at wrong done to himself or another it does
not at once break out into fury, then it is a shame. God has so
arranged it that man, for the most trifling reason, will burst forth
in anger like a forest fire, and woman will burst into tears like a
rain-cloud for no reason at all. But the cycle seems to have changed,
and this appears no longer to hold good.
bent his head, and said to himself: "Well, if this is
your judgment, let it be so. I will simply do my own duty." Bhusan,
who ought to have been born five or six centuries hence, when the
world will be moved by psychic forces, was unfortunate enough not only
to be born in the nineteenth century, but also to marry a woman who
belonged to that primitive age which persists through all time. He did
not write a word on the subject to his wife, and determined in his
mind that he would never mention it to her again. What an awful
'Ten or twelve
days later, having secured the necessary loan, Bhusan
returned to his home. He imagined that Mani, after completing her
mission, had by this time come back from her father's house. And so he
approached the door of the inner apartments, wondering whether his
wife would show any signs of shame or penitence for the undeserved
suspicion with which she had treated him.
'He found that
the door was shut. Breaking the lock, he entered the
room, and saw that it was empty.
'It seemed to
him that the world was a huge cage from which the bird
of love had flown away, leaving behind it all the decorations of the
blood-red rubies of our hearts, and the pearl pendants of our
'At first Bhusan
did not trouble about his wife's absence. He thought
that if she wanted to come back she would do so. His old Brahman
steward, however, came to him, and said: "What good will come of
taking no notice of it? You ought to get some news of the mistress."
Acting on this suggestion, messengers were sent to Mani's father's
house. The news was brought that up to that time neither Mani nor
Modhu had turned up there.
'Then a search
began in every direction. Men went along both banks of
the river making inquiries. The police were given a description of
Modhu, but all in vain. They were unable to find out what boat they
had taken, what boatman they had hired, or by what way they had gone.
when all hope had been abandoned of ever finding his
wife, Bhusan entered his deserted bedroom. It was the festival of
Krishna's birth, and it had been raining incessantly from early
morning. In celebration of the festival there was a fair going on in
the village, and in a temporary building a theatrical performance was
being given. The sound of distant singing could be heard mingling
with the sound of pouring rain. Bhusan was sitting alone in the
darkness at the window there which hangs loose upon its hinges. He
took no notice of the damp wind, the spray of the rain, and the sound
of the singing. On the wall of the room were hanging a couple of
pictures of the goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati, painted at the Art
Studio; on the clothes-rack a towel, and a bodice, and a pair of
_saris_ were laid out ready for use. On a table in one corner of the
room there was a box containing betel leaves prepared by Mani's own
hand, but now quite dry and uneatable. In a cupboard with a glass door
all sorts of things were arranged with evident care--her china dolls
of childhood's days, scent bottles, decanters of coloured glass, a
sumptuous pack of cards, large brightly polished shells, and even
empty soapboxes. In a niche there was a favourite little lamp with
its round globe. Mani had been in the habit of lighting it with her
own hands every evening. One who goes away, leaving everything empty,
leaves the imprint of his living heart even on lifeless objects. Come,
Mani, come back again, light your lamp, fill your room with light once
more, and, standing before your mirror, put on your _sari_ which has
been prepared with such care. See, all your things are waiting for
you. No one will claim anything more from you, but only ask you to
give a living unity once more to these scattered and lifeless things,
by the mere presence of your imperishable youth and unfading beauty.
Alas, the inarticulate cry of these mute and lifeless objects has made
this room into a realm of things that have lost their world.
'In the dead
of night, when the heavy rain had ceased, and the songs
of the village opera troupe had become silent, Bhusan was sitting in
the same position as before. Outside the window there was such an
impenetrable darkness that it seemed to him as if the very gates of
oblivion were before him reaching to the sky,--as if he had only to
cry out to be able to recover sight of those things which seemed to
have been lost for ever.
'Just as he
was thinking thus, a jingling sound as of ornaments was
heard. It seemed to be advancing up the steps of the _ghat_. The water
of the river and the darkness of the night were indistinguishable.
Thrilling with excitement, Bhusan tried to pierce and push through the
darkness with his eager eyes, till they ached,--but he could see
nothing. The more anxious he was to see, the denser the darkness
became, and the more shadowy the outer world. Nature, seeing an
intruder at the door of her hall of death, seemed suddenly to have
drawn a still thicker curtain of darkness.
'The sound reached
the top step of the bathing _ghat_, and now began
to come towards the house. It stopped in front of the door, which had
_been locked by the porter before he went to the fair. Then upon that
closed door there fell a rain of jingling blows, as if with some
ornaments. Bhusan was not able to sit still another moment, but,
making his way through the unlighted rooms and down the dark
staircase, he stood before the closed door. It was padlocked from the
outside, so he began to shake it with all his might. The force with
which he shook the door and the sound which he made woke him suddenly.
He found he had been asleep, and in his sleep he had made his way down
to the door of the house. His whole body was wet with sweat, his hands
and feets were icy cold, and his heart was fluttering like a lamp just
about to go out. His dream being broken, he realised that there was no
sound outside except the pattering of the rain which had commenced
whole thing was a dream, Bhusan felt as if for some very
small obstacle he had been cheated of the wonderful realisation of his
impossible hope. The incessant patter of the rain seemed to say to
him: "This awakening is a dream. This world is vain."
was continued on the following day, and the doorkeeper
again had leave. Bhusan gave orders that the hall-door was to be left
open all night, but the porter objected that there were all sorts of
suspicious characters about who had come from other places to the
fair, and that it would not be safe to leave the door open. But Bhusan
would not listen, whereupon the porter said that he would himself stay
on guard. But Bhusan refused to allow him to remain. The porter was
puzzled, but did not press the point.
having extinguished the light, Bhusan took his seat at
the open window of his bedroom as before. The sky was dark with
rain-clouds, and there was a silence as of something indefinite and
impending. The monotonous croaking of the frogs and the sound of the
distant songs were not able to break that silence, but only seemed to
add an incongruity to it.
'Late at night
the frogs and the crickets and the boys of the opera
party became silent, and a still deeper darkness fell upon the night.
It seemed that now the time had come.
'Just as on
the night before, a clattering and jingling sound came
from the _ghat_ by the river. But this time Bhusan did not look in
that direction, lest, by his over-anxiety and restlessness, his power
of sight and hearing would become overwhelmed. He made a supreme
effort to control himself, and sat still.
'The sound of
the ornaments gradually advanced from the _ghat_, and
entered the open door. Then it came winding up the spiral staircase
which led to the inner apartments. It became difficult for Bhusan to
control himself, his heart began to thump wildly, and his throat was
choking with suppressed excitement. Having reached the head of the
spiral stairs, the sound came slowly along the veranda towards the
door of the room, where it stopped just outside with a clanking sound.
It was now only just on the other side of the threshold.
contain himself no longer, and his pent-up excitement
burst forth in one wild cry of "Mani," and he sprang up from his chair
with lightning rapidity. Thus startled out of his sleep, he found that
the very window-panes were rattling with the vibration of his cry. And
outside he could hear the croaking of the frogs and patter of rain.
'Bhusan struck his forehead in despair.
'Next day the
fair broke up, and the stall-keepers and the players'
party went away. Bhusan gave orders that that night no one should
sleep in the house except himself. The servants came to the conclusion
that their master was going to practise some mystic rites. All that
day Bhusan fasted.
'In the evening,
he took his seat at the window of that empty house.
That day there were breaks in the clouds, showing the stars twinkling
through-the rain-washed air. The moon was late in rising, and, as the
fair was over, there was not a single boat on the flooded river. The
villagers, tired out by two nights' dissipation, were sound asleep.
with his head resting on the back of his chair, was
gazing up at the stars. He was thinking of the time when he was only
nineteen years old, and was reading in Calcutta; how in the evening he
used to lie in College Square, with his hands behind his head, gazing
up at those eternal stars, and thinking of the sweet face of Mani in
his father-in-law's house. The very separation from her was like an
instrument whose tense-drawn strings those stars used to touch and
waken into song.
'As he watched
them, the stars one by one disappeared. From the sky
above, and from the earth beneath, screens of darkness met like tired
eyelids upon weary eyes. To-night Bhusan's mind was full of peace. He
felt certain that the moment had come when his heart's desire would be
fulfilled, and that Death would reveal his mysteries to his devotee.
'The sound came
from the river _ghat_ just as on the previous nights
and advanced up the steps. Bhusan closed his eyes, and sat in deep
meditation. The sound reached the empty hall. It came winding up the
spiral stairs. Then it crossed the long veranda, and paused for a long
while at the bedroom door.
beat fast; his whole body trembled. But this time he
did not open his eyes. The sound crossed the threshold. It entered
the room. Then it went slowly round the room, stopping before the rack
where the clothes were hanging, the niche with its little lamp, the
table where the dried betel leaves were lying, the _almirah_ with its
various knick-knacks, and, last of all, it came and stood close to
his eyes. He saw by the faint light of the crescent
moon that there was a skeleton standing right in front of his chair.
It had rings on all its fingers, bracelets on its wrists and armlets
on its arms, necklaces on its neck, and a golden tiara on its
head,--in fact its whole body glittered and sparkled with gold and
diamonds. The ornaments hung loosely on the limbs, but did not fall
off. Most dreadful of all was the fact that the two eyes which shone
out from the bony face were living--two dark moist eyeballs looking
out with a fixed and steady stare from between the long thick
eyelashes. As he looked his blood froze in his veins. He tried hard to
close his eyes but could not; they remained open, staring like those
of a dead man.
'Then the skeleton,
fixing its gaze upon the face of the motionless
Bhusan, silently beckoned with its outstretched hand, the diamond
rings on its bony fingers glittering in the pale moonlight.
up, as one who had lost his senses, and followed the
skeleton, which left the room, its bones and ornaments rattling with a
hollow sound. The skeleton crossed the veranda and, winding down the
pitch-dark spiral staircase, reached the bottom of the stairs.
Crossing the lower veranda, they entered the empty lampless hall and,
passing through it, came out on to the brick-paved path of the garden.
The bricks crunched under the tread of the bony feet. The faint
moonlight struggled through the thick network of branches, and the
path was difficult to discern. Making their way through the flitting
fireflies, which haunted the dark shadowy path, they reached the river
'By those very
steps, up which the sound had come, the bejewelled
skeleton went down step by step, with a stiff gait and hard sound. On
the swift current of the river, flooded by the heavy rain, a faint
streak of moonlight was visible.
descended to the river, and Bhusan, following it, placed
one foot in the water. The moment he touched the water he woke with a
start. His guide was no longer to be seen. Only the trees on the
opposite bank of the river were standing still and silent, and
overhead the half moon was staring as if astonished. Starting from
head to foot, Bhusan slipped and fell headlong into the river.
Although he knew how to swim, he was powerless to do so, for his limbs
were not under his control. From the midst of dreams he had stepped,
for a moment only, into the borderland of waking life--the next moment
to be plunged into eternal sleep.'
his story, the schoolmaster was silent for a little.
Suddenly, the moment he stopped, I realised that except for him the
whole world had become silent and still. For a long time I also
remained speechless, and in the darkness he was unable to see from my
face what was its expression.
At last he asked me: 'Don't you believe this story?'
I asked: 'Do you?'
He said: 'No;
and I can give you one or two reasons why. In the first
place, Dame Nature does not write novels, she has enough to do
him and said: 'And, in the second place, my name happens
to be Bhusan Saha.'
without the least sign of discomfiture, said: 'I
guessed as much. And what was your wife's name?'
I answered: 'Nitya Kali.'
'Theft from the king's treasury!' The cry ran through the town. The
thief must be found, or there will be trouble for the officer of the
stranger from a foreign port, came to sell horses in the
town, and, robbed by a band of robbers of all his earnings, was lying
in a ruined temple outside the walls. They charged him with the theft,
chained him, and led him through the streets to the prison.
of a perilous charm, sat in her balcony idly watching
the passing crowd. Suddenly she shuddered, and cried to her attendant:
'Alas, who is that godlike young man with a noble face, led in chains
like a common thief? Ask the officer in my name to bring him in before
The chief of
the guards came with the prisoner, and said to Shyama:
'Your favour is untimely, my lady; I must hasten to do the king's
bidding.' Vajrasen quickly raised his head, and broke out: 'What
caprice is this of yours, woman, to bring me in from the street to
mock me with your cruel curiosity?'
cried Shyama; 'I could gladly take your chains upon my
limbs in exchange for my jewels.'
to the officer, she said: 'Take all the money I have, and
set him free.'
He bowed, and
said: 'It cannot be. A victim we must have to stay the
'I ask only
two days' respite for the prisoner,' urged Shyama. The
officer smiled, and consented.
On the end of his second night in prison, Vajrasen said his prayers,
and sat waiting for his last moment, when suddenly the door opened,
and the woman appeared with a lamp in her hand, and at her signal the
guard unchained the prisoner.
'You have come
to me with that lamp, merciful woman,' said he, 'like
the dawn with her morning star after a night of delirious fever.'
Shyama cried, and broke out in wild laughter, till
tears came with a burst, and she sobbed, and said: 'There is no stone
brick in this prison-tower harder than this woman's heart.' And
clutching the prisoner's hand she dragged him out of the gates.
On the Varuna's
bank the sun rose. A boat was waiting at the landing.
'Come to the boat with me, stranger youth,' Shyama said. 'Only know
that I have cut all bonds, and I drift in the same boat with you.'
boat glided on. Merrily sang the birds. 'Tell me, my
love,' asked Vajrasen, 'what untold wealth did you spend to buy my
'Hush, not now,' said Shyama.
on to noon. Village women had gone back home with their
clothes dripping from their bath, and pitchers filled with water.
Marketing was over. The village path glared in the sun all lonely.
In the warm
gusts of the noontide wind Shyama's veil dropped from her
face. Vajrasen murmured in her ears: 'You freed me from a bond that
was brief to bind me in a bond everlasting. Let me know how it was
done.' The woman drew her veil over her face, and said: 'Not now, my
The day waned,
and it darkened. The breeze died away. The crescent
moon glimmered feebly at the edge of the steel-black water.
Shyama sat in
the dark, resting her head on the youth's shoulder. Her
hair fell loose on his arms.
'What I did
for you was hard, beloved,' she said in a faint
whisper,'but it is harder to tell you. I shall tell it in a few
words. It was the love-sick boy Uttiya who took your place, charging
himself with the theft, and making me a present of his life. My
greatest sin has been committed for the love of you, my best beloved.'
While she spoke
the crescent moon had set. The stillness of the
forest was heavy with the sleep of countless birds.
Slowly the youth's
arm slipped from the woman's waist. Silence round
them became hard and cold as stone.
woman fell at his feet, and clung to his knee crying:
'Forgive me, my love. Leave it to my God to punish me for my sin.'
feet away, Vajrasen hoarsely cried: 'That my life should
be bought by the price of a sin! That every breath of mine should be
He stood up,
and leapt from the boat on the bank, and entered the
forest. He walked on and on till the path closed and the dense trees,
tangled with creepers, stopped him with fantastic gestures.
Tired, he sat
on the ground. But who was it that followed him in
silence, the long dark way, and stood at his back like a phantom?
'Will you not leave me?' shouted Vajrasen.
In a moment
the woman fell upon him with an impetuous flood of
caresses; with her tumbling hair and trailing robes, with her
showering kisses and panting breath she covered him all over.
In a voice choked
with pent-up tears, she said: 'No, no; I shall never
leave you. I have sinned for you. Strike me, if you will; kill me with
your own hands.'
The still blackness
of the forest shivered for a moment; a horror ran
through the twisting roots of trees underground. A groan and a
smothered breath rose through the night, and a body fell down upon the
sun flashed on the far-away spire of the temple when
Vajrasen came out of the woods. He wandered in the hot sun the whole
day by the river on the sandy waste, and never rested for a moment.
In the evening
he went back aimlessly to the boat. There on the bed
lay an anklet. He clutched it, and pressed it to his heart till it
bruised him. He fell prone upon the blue mantle left lying in a heap
in the corner, hid his face in its folds, and from its silken touch
and evasive fragrance struggled to absorb into his being the memory of
a dear living body.
The night shook
with a tense and tingling silence. The moon
disappeared behind the trees. Vajrasen stood up, and stretched out
his arms towards the woods, and called: 'Come, my love, come.'
Suddenly a figure
came out of the darkness, and stood on the brink of
'Come, love, come.'
'I have come,
my beloved. Your dear hands failed to kill me. It is my
doom to live.'
and stood before the youth. He looked at her face, he
moved a step to take her in his arms--then thrust her away with both
hands, and cried: 'Why, oh why did you come back?'
He shut his eyes, turning his face, and said: 'Go, go; leave me.'
For a minute
the woman stood silent before she knelt at his feet and
bowed low. Then she rose, and went up the river-bank, and vanished in
the vague of the woods like a dream merging into sleep; and Vajrasen,
with aching heart, sat silent in the boat.